It’s time to learn some basic notions about pneumonectomy, the surgical procedure that aims at removing one of the patient’s lungs. Usually, doctors will use this procedure to remove lung masses and growths, such as non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). At the same time, surgeons could perform pneumonectomy to treat other conditions that the patient has.
Most people are capable of living with only one lung instead of two if it is needed. As you probably already know, the lungs are connected to our mouth through a series of tubes. The lungs will provide oxygen to the body using those tubes while they also remove carbon dioxide.
Thanks to hopkinsmedicine.org, we can now learn the basics about pneumonectomy surgery.
When is pneumonectomy needed?
If a patient is dealing with lung cancer, he may need to have one of his lungs removed by doctors. This condition represents the most common reason for the pneumonectomy surgery. However, healthcare providers usually try to get rid of as little lung tissue as possible. But if the cancer cannot be removed through smaller surgeries, removing the whole affected lung becomes an option.
However, there are other conditions that the patient may suffer from that require lung removal, such as:
- Bronchial blockage accompanied by a destroyed lung
- Fungal infections in the lung
- Pulmonary metastases, meaning cancers that spread to the lungs from other parts of the body
- Pulmonary tuberculosis
- Congenital lung disease
- Traumatic lung injury
An interesting fact is that 81% of those who live with lung cancer are above the age of 60 years old, as the disease is known to affect the elderly the most severely.
How is pneumonectomy performed?
For the pneumonectomy surgery, the surgeon will make an incision on the side of the body. He will cut some muscle and spread the ribs apart in order to remove the lung that is affected.
Healthcare providers may choose to do a pneumonectomy using a VATS procedure in some rare cases. For this procedure, a special video camera known as a thoracoscope will be used, and the surgery itself is minimally invasive. However, the procedure is complex enough to require a surgeon who possesses great experience and technical skills.
Pneumonectomy poses significant possible complications
Although a lot of people who go through pneumonectomy surgery do very well, this type of medical intervention has its possible risks. Here are a few of the complications that could appear:
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Anesthesia-related complications
- Respiratory failure
- Excessive bleeding
- Decreased blood flow to the heart
- Blood clot in one of the lungs (aka pulmonary embolism)
After a patient undergoes a pneumonectomy surgery, his recovery could even take months. However, it’s also possible that he will be back on his feet in just a few weeks. Before going through such a surgery, it’s always a good idea for the patient to ask his healthcare provider about the specific risks. Age, medical record, or any other health problems will help determine the possible risks and complications of the surgery.
What to expect after pneumonectomy
If you’re a patient who’s about to go through a pneumonectomy, you need to ask your healthcare about what to expect. After the surgery, you will have to spend a few days in the hospital. However, here’s what usually will happen for you after such a surgery:
- Confusion could kick in as soon as you wake up. Several hours after the surgery could last until you wake up, or even a little more.
- You may have small tubes positioned in your nose for oxygen to get to you. Usually, this will be a temporary measure.
- Your vital signs will need to be carefully watched, such as your breathing, heart rate, oxygen levels, and blood pressure. Several types of monitors will be attached for the doctors to keep an eye on your condition.
- Special stockings may be needed on your legs to help prevent the forming of blood clots.
- You shouldn’t go through severe pain, although some level of soreness might appear. Pain medicine should be available if you need it.
- Breathing therapy might be needed several times a day to help get rid of fluids that get in your lungs during the surgery.
After your discharge from the hospital
After the surgery itself and spending a few days in the hospital afterward, here are the aspects you need to take into account:
- Make sure there is a person who can drive you home.
- Don’t be surprised if, after the surgery, you get tired easily. A few weeks to a month will be needed for you to fully recover your strength.
- You need to go for a walk several times a day.
- Don’t lift anything heavy for a few weeks.
- During a follow-up appointment, your stitches or staples will need to be removed. You need to make sure that you’ll keep all of your follow-up appointments.
- Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions for diet, exercise, medicine, and wound care, so make sure to follow them all thoroughly.
- If you have any questions about your condition or the medicine you need to take, call your provider.
- Call your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you manifest any signs of fever, infections, increasing pain, or swelling.
The survival rate of lung cancer (17%) is significantly lower compared to breast cancer, for instance. Across the globe, lung cancer even represents the leading cause of cancer deaths, as the Mayo Clinic informs.